The wizard of Walla Walla
by Susan van Dyke
The Thoroughbred industry in Washington State has been blessed
with many out-standing individuals, both people and horses. Nine horsemen and
three horses were honored during the inaugural Washington Racing Hall of Fame
gala dinner in September. In last months issue, we gave you a brief
biography of these outstanding individuals, but felt that each ones story
and accomplishments deemed an in-depth profile. This month we will begin with
what is to be a continuing series on Washington Racing Hall of Fame recipients,
a story on the Wizard of Walla Walla, Allen Drumheller. We hope you
find these profiles as fascinating and inspiring as we did.
hen you think of the uniquely named
southeastern Washington town of Walla Walla, some of the first things that come
to mind are endless wheat fields, those wonderful Walla Walla sweet onions and
the infamous Whitman massacre, but at one time Walla Walla was also the home of
Washingtons leading Thoroughbred farm, family and a nationally respected
Thoroughbred trainer; all by the name of Drumheller.
The Walla Walla Birthright of Washington Thoroughbred Breeding
Born in Tennessee in 1835, Jesse Drumheller,
then 17, first arrived in Walla Walla in 1852 with the Ezra Meeker wagon train.
It was during this time period that the Washington Territorial Legislature had
begun creating new counties out of the 110,000 square miles that they had
earlier (in 1854) set aside from Skamania County and christened Walla Walla
County. (Walla Walla County was one of the first areas in the region between
the Cascade and Rocky Mountains to be permanently settled.) Jesse married
fellow pioneer Martha Maxson in 1859 and they had six sons and one daughter. He
and his sons would later found the Drumheller Company, which retailed hardware
and agricultural supplies. Meanwhile, he kept adding to his land, until he had
almost 6,000 acres. He was noted for his progressive methods in both farming
and livestock raising.
Among his sons were Oscar
and Thomas, who would run the family store; Samuel, who would travel with a
herd of cattle to Albertas Red Deer Valley, discover coal and later have
the eventual settlement named after him after winning that honor in a
supposed coin toss; and George (1874-1945), who followed his father in becoming
one of the pioneer wheat growers in Washington with a farm of 1,050 acres.
Walla Wallas Drumheller Building, built about 1910, stands to this day.
George and his wife Lillian had three sons,
Allen, Dewey and Earl, and daughter Jessie. The community-minded Lillian is
remembered for her profound influence on the growth of Walla Walla in its early
days and especially for the campaign that brought a YMCA to Walla
Walla in 1911.
In addition to wheat, George
began to seriously dabble into what, in the twenties, was most certainly
an obscure business in this state Thoroughbred racing. By the time
of his death, George was deemed the father of Thoroughbred horse
racing in Washington. He was considered the leading Washington horseman
of his day, after spending thousands of dollars for Kentucky bloodstock
and racing stock and was the states leading breeder by earnings
from 1935 through 1940. Among his best horses were My Reverie, Bonnie Omar,
Blarney Stone, Pat, Linden Tree and Glad Mart. When Longacres opened in 1933,
Drumheller Ranch was the largest Thoroughbred breeding operation among the
eight that existed in the state. Drumheller was also one of the original
sponsors of Washington State House Bill 59, which once again allowed horse
racing back into the Evergreen State. His son Allen, soon to become one of the
nations most respected trainers, was one of the states original
From the Rodeo to the Racetrack
Born in 1894, Allen followed his father into the
business of breeding Thoroughbred horses in 1925. He had been a relay and
bronco rider at the age of 14. A fast-tempered and thrill bound
youth, the young Drumheller turned from studies at Whitman College to an
early career with the rodeo where he later became a champion rodeo performer.
One of his companions was world record holding relay rider and 1921 Pendleton
All-around Rodeo Champion Darrell Cannon, who went on to train Longacres Mile
winners Kings Favor and Steel Blade for Joe Gottsteins Elttaes Stable in
the late 1960s.
While Allen Drumheller is being
honored with induction into the inaugural Washington Racing Hall of Fame due to
his record as a trainer, he and his father could have just as easily been
honored for their many contributions to the states fledgling breeding
Allens father George had made his first serious foray into the breeding
business when he brought Gladiator, a 1917 son of Superman who had won the
Toboggan Handicap as a four-year-old, from New Orleans to stand in Washington.
Gladiators best son was 1941 Longacres Mile winner Campus Fusser (bred
and trained by Allen), the first Washington-bred to take the Longacres Mile. In
the early 1930s, George added the Black Toney stallion Black Forest (1928), who
sired Georgie Drum, named in honor of Allens son George. At five, Georgie
Drum won the Stars and Stripes Handicap beating Equifox, *Rounders,
Pensive [winner of the 1944 Kentucky Derby], War Knight and four others,
earning $41,000 it was the richest stakes ever won by a Washington-bred
horse and in it he whipped the best lot of horses a Washington-bred was ever
pitted against his earnings after this stakes were $61,000, a suitable
reward for the patience exercised by his owner, breeder and trainer Allen
Fort Churchill, a 1917-foaled son of *Honeywood, was
another stallion roster addition. While he was originally acquired and
used exclusively as a stock horse sire, the demand in the area being for range
work horses of size and early speed. The Fort Churchills began to show such zip
in ranch races and rodeo relays the big horse was tried on Thoroughbreds.
Among his successful offspring was Prince Ernest, winner of the 1945 Longacres
Allen Drumheller only bred a total of 34
Thoroughbreds, all during the 19-year period between 1933 to 1952. All but one
of them started. The lone unraced Campus Star went on to produce 1948
Washington Futurity winner Lucille Angel. An amazing 30 (88 percent from foals)
returned to the winners circle. By the time of his death in 1955, they
had recorded 273 wins among 1,777 starts and earned $583,234, for an incredible
average of $17,673 per runner. To put this in some sort of perspective, in
1955, the average earnings for a Washington-bred runner during that year was
$1,180 and the 25th highest earning Washington-bred on the all time leading
list had won just under $25,000!
was the very first Washington breeder to go over the half-million mark in
earnings. The previously mentioned Lucille Angel was responsible for her
breeder hitting that milestone. It happened on March 2, 1952, when she won the
eighth race on the Agua Caliente card.
the influence that Allen Drumheller-bred horses had during Washingtons
early modern (post Longacres opening) racing days, you only need look at
the list of leading Washington-bred earners through the 1955 race season. Of
the 25 horses listed, the top three Hank H., Sirde and Georgie Drum were
all bred by Allen Drumheller, as well as two others on the list!
Sirde, a 1941-foaled son of *Mio dArezzo was the
first Washington-bred to hit the $100,000 mark. He hit that pinnacle after
winning a Santa Anita overnight handicap as a five-year-old. Sirde, which is
Edris spelled backwards, was named to honor Joe Gottsteins partner and
friend William Edris. Among Sirdes stakes placements was a third in the
1945 Hollywood Gold Cup to Challenge Me, who he had previously defeated in the
San Carlos Handicap.
Router Hank H., a
gangling, rip snorter from the Walla Walla wheat fields was named in
honor of the Drumhellers longtime ranch foreman Henry Heinrich. The 1943
son of Black Forest became the states second $100,000 winner. Hank H.
passed Sirde as the all time leading Washington-bred earner when he won a seven
furlong dash at Hollywood Park on July 13, 1951. By coincidence, the following
day Calumet Farms great Citation won the Hollywood Gold Cup to become
racings first millionaire. By the time of his retirement, Hank H. was
Washingtons leading earner with 26 victories among his 69 starts and
$130,700 in money won.
A 1952 article in The
Washington Horse states: The wide swatch [Allen] Drumheller has cut
as breeder of Washington-breds can be no better emphasized than by pointing out
that he has bred one-twentieth of the year starters since 1935 and has
accumulated one fifth of all monies won by local Thoroughbreds.
Allen bettered his fathers record of six times
as Washingtons leading breeder by leading the list eight years, 1941 and
1943-1949. He finished second on the list in 1942 and 1951, was third in 1938
(with earnings of $4,335), 1940 and 1950, and was fourth from 1952-1953. He had
his best year in 1944 when his five winners, from seven runners, won 13 races
and earned $80,065.
A Conditioner Par Excellence
By the time 1952 rolled around, Allen had bred his
final Thoroughbred, a colt named Spookaloo, who was sired by the last of the
Drumheller stallions, Conformity, a 1946 son of His Grace.
Drumheller has been the most successful breeder
in the history of Washington turf annals. There is simply no telling to what
heights he would have gone in the breeding field if he had devoted his full
attention to that endeavor. As it turned out he was equally or more successful
as a trainer and found it more advantageous to follow that pursuit.
Allens name was first recorded in the Longacres
record books as an owner, when his Triplane, a three-year-old son of Whichone
who he had claimed for $3,000 at Santa Anita the previous winter, won a
Seabiscuit-less 1938 Longacres Mile. Seabiscuit had been assigned a record 142
pounds for the fourth running of the Mile, but trainer Tom Smith had elected to
leave his champion charge in California. With fellow Washington Racing Hall of
Fame inductee Ralph Neves aboard, Triplane came home by one length over
Klister. William Boeings race favorite Gleeman, who had previously
defeated the mighty Charles S. Howard runner, finished less than a length back
in fourth. It marked the first victory in the Mile for a Washington owner.
Drumheller had had a runner in the 1936 Mile, but Plucky Jack could do no
better than sixth.
Allen Drumheller was both the
owner, and trainer of record when the Drumheller-bred Hank H. won the 1947
edition of the Mile. The Drumheller triple could have been achieved six years
earlier if Allen hadnt sold his Washington Futurity winner Campus Fusser
to Mrs. B. N. Hutchinson prior to the 1941 Mile. Campus Fusser beat entrymate
Wee Toney by 3 1/2 lengths, equaling the track record of 1:35 3/5. After the
Mile, the winning trainer proclaimed, I guess I made a mistake. I knew
the horse was good, but I really didnt think he was that good.
Campus Fusser and Hank H. were half-brothers, both
offspring of the stellar producer Campus Queen, the only mare in race history
to produce two separate winners of Joe Gottsteins spectacular. Hank H. is
also one of only three runners to win both the Gottstein (Washington) Futurity
and Longacres Mile and was the first horse to take back-to-back runnings of the
Washington Championship (now Washing- ton Cup Classic) Stakes.
Drumheller saddled his second consecutive Mile winner
in 1942, when B. N. Hutchinsons California-bred Lavengro won the
northwest racing jewel by two lengths. Five years earlier, Lavengro, then two,
had been the best runner of his generation, even defeating 1938 Kentucky Derby
winner Lawrin. The first dual winner of the Longacres Mile was Amble In. The
son of Fighting Fox had won the 11th renewal in 1946 under the stewardship of
Francis Keller, the only woman to train two Mile winners. Two years later,
Amble In gave Allen Drumheller his fourth Longacres Mile winner as trainer when
the five-year-old gelding took the race by a neck over his entrymate Minstrel
Boy, who finished two lengths to the fore of fellow Drumheller trainee and 1947
Mile winner Hank H. (Drumhellers final entry of the four, the filly War
Moment, who had served a role as a rabbit in the race, finished last in the
field of 10). The last previous sweep by an entry in an American stakes race
had been the 1947 Washington Park Futurity, when Calumet Farm runners Bewitch,
Citation and Free America had finished in that order. Drumhellers record
of four Mile winners has never been broken and it wasnt until 2002 when
fellow Washington Hall of Fame trainer Jim Penney, a member of another
Washington pioneer family, equaled his win record with Sabertooth.
Though the Drumheller runners frequently made the trip
up and down the west coast, they were also successful in Chicago, as attested
by Georgie Drums victories in the Sheridan, Stars and Stripes and Emerson
F. Woodward Memorial handicaps.
Meadows spring opening day of 1951, Drumheller and rider Johnny Longden won
three races. It was noted that the Play Drumheller customers
grow more ardent as the days passed. He was the leading trainer at the
1955 Hollywood Park meet, when he trained 32 winners. It was during that same
meeting that he sent out five horses one day and came home with five winners.
He also led the Longacres trainer standings in 1948.
From 1948 through 1955, Drumheller was listed among
the top 30 trainers by earnings nationally. He was ranked seventh in 1953 when
he had 84 wins and earnings of $319,950. Even with his premature death in 1955,
his runners had given him 83 wins and earnings of $453,582 during the nine
months they ran in his name, to again rank seventh in earnings, and sixth in
number of wins.
When Allen Drumheller died of a
heart attack on October 1, 1955 at the age of 61, he was considered one of the
most prominent trainers in the country. It was noted that he actually preferred
the title conditioner, rather than trainer. At the time of his death,
Drumheller was serving as a director of the California division of the HBPA and
was ranked fourth in the national training standings.
Drumheller was one of the most respected men in
his profession, his wise and temperate counsel invariably being asked.
His large public stable of 40 horses included the
1955 two-year-old sensation Bold Bazooka, who was owned by comedian/actor Lou
Costello, and Hollywood Park three-year-old of the meeting Baby Alice. Among
his other topnotch stakes horses were Spanish Cream, Special Touch, Manyunk and
*Guerrero. Earlier on the day of his demise, his son Allen, Jr. had saddled Mr.
Sullivan to victory in the San Jose Handicap at Bay Meadows.
The late Clio Hogan, longtime editor of The
Washington Horse, wrote in his editorial following Drumhellers death
the following illuminating phrases.
news of the death of Allen Drumheller, Sr. shocked and saddened every person
connected with racing in the State of Washington. Of course, this was a natural
reaction to all those who knew him, for he was a loved and respected man. But
it was more than that, it was more than the passing of a man a person
it was the loss of a symbol, which spelled an ideal.
The name Allen Drumheller, or Drum-heller father
and son, was synonymous with success in the breeding field in Washington. Here
was a man who bred but 34 horses over a span of 19 years, less than two horses
per year, yet was the primary force in putting Washington breeding on the map.
How did he do it? We have better bloodlines
in the state today than Allen had at hand and yet there has been no Hank H., no
Sirde, nor a Georgie Drum in the last decade. Why? The answer came to light
when he turned his full efforts to conditioning Thoroughbreds. He
quickly proved he was a master, in all its meaning, in that field. He was such
a master that any horse coming under his care, which had a spark of greatness,
was made great.
He may not have been years
ahead in bloodlines, but he was 25 years ahead in conditioning and therein he
leaves behind him a great lesson to fellow horsemen in the State of Washington
Sources: Various Washington Horse articles including
The Second Guess, by Mike Donohoe, September 1946, Hank H.
and Alderman, by Leon Rasmussen, August 1951, George Drumheller obituary,
January 1946, Allen Drumheller obituary, November 1955; From Pendleton to
Calgary, by Doug and Cathy Jory; Whos Who in Thoroughbred Racing,
1947, by Ed Welch; Walla Walla County Web site; On the Trail of
Narcissa, by Betsy Miller; Longacres Mile Media Guide; American
Racing Manuals, 1946-1955.
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.